When should you hire a back office team? Part Two

Published on

February 9, 2022

Written by

Alison Humphries


In Part One of this series, I attempted to give some broad definitions of when sales-led owners of recruitment businesses should seek to develop a back-office infrastructure. We looked first at finance and compliance, and the factors that “move the dial” on whether you should hire support staff.

This article follows on and looks specifically at HR and marketing functions.

Human Resources

Let me say something controversial here. In small (sub 50 heads) recruitment business, HR should be an administrative function, and HR strategy decided by the board. There are multiple HR outsourcing businesses out there who will issue you with a fairly useless staff handbook and template policies, but well-written, specific policies can actually do some of the heavy lifting of management for you. 

They help clarify expectations, they remove the ‘personal’ when you have to deal with conduct or performance issues, and they provide you with protection from claims. Policies must be kept up-to-date and someone has to send out offer letters, contracts and updates.

Before HR professionals lynch me, I want to point out that I am CIPD qualified, with a postgraduate diploma in learning and development. I know the difference that great HR can make. But in small recruitment businesses, most of that difference is made by learning and development, which feeds directly into performance and sales results.

I am a firm believer in L&D with clear ROI and kept close to the P&L. Some people choose to go into L&D to get away from the front line and become preoccupied with explaining models and theories which appear attractive but are not actionable. To me, the senior leadership of a business should deliver training themselves, and when they need expertise they don’t have, they should sit in and be fully aware of external training until the business is over 50 heads at the very least.

Traditionally, organograms show L&D as a subset of HR. It doesn’t have to be this way. 


When I started in recruitment, marketing was barely understood by recruiters and was often confused with PR. Terms like “brand values”, “employer branding”, “purpose” were unknown in this context. Recruitment businesses were driven by salespeople, who controlled the information that potential customers had about jobs, market intel, them, and their competitors.

This information asymmetry has changed forever. These days, by the time you actually get to speak to a potential customer, they have formed an opinion of you, your company, and the recruitment industry as a whole. According to some studies, the buyer has completed up to 47% of the buyer journey before you have the opportunity to engage directly.

Why? Marketing. Even having no marketing is a statement about your brand. The client will have seen that you have published no content pieces, your LinkedIn profile is basic, your job adverts are misspelled.

But most of the recruitment business owners I meet are not marketing strategists. They skip from one approach to another, random bits of content that aren’t followed up, and then worry about the ROI and the amount of money they have spent.

The trick with marketing is to look at an overall plan that is reasonable and proportionate to what you can afford. If you need an education in what is possible, consult a marketing agency and then ask them to quote you for a specific list of what you require. Make sure your strategy is integrated – if your website stands alone from your CRM and the CRM has no connection to your marketing comms, then you will be collecting little piles of data that will never get used. Remember, building a brand is all about iteration, not one-offs. 

So, I advise businesses from the get-go to engage a marketing agency and establish absolute clarity about who is delivering what, and when. If you are a start-up, you won’t have time to do a professional job yourself. 

Very few small businesses can afford their own full-time marketing manager. However, I advise you not to bring in an inexperienced employee until you have educated yourself about what gets traction for your brand, what you want to measure and ironed out the tech stack, integrations, and brand messaging. So for me, your first internal marketing hire will be the right investment when you have been in business for at least two years, have about £1m in sales, and feel confident about managing that individual, rather than them managing you.  

Wondering if your business needs the advice of a highly experienced board advisor, with experience of managing across all business functions? Then get in touch! Alison Humphries is an Honorary Fellow of the REC, award-winning developer of people, and a successful MD who has taken businesses to sale in the recent past. Book a call with Alison here.

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